Up until the fourth quarter of yesterday's game, the Chicago Bears were being called one of the best teams in football. Their defense was playing great. Their special teams were extra special. And their offense had developed a rhythm.
But all that is up in the air now as the Bears lost Jay Cutler for the rest of the regular season with a broken thumb, forcing them to turn to not-so-tested rookie Caleb Hanie to come in and continue the team's playoff run.
What does this mean for Bears fans?
Cutler, who always seems to be maligned, no matter what he does, had been playing very good football. He'd had time to actually drop back and go through his progressions once the Bears equally-maligned offensive line had gotten their collective act together. And Jay was making the most of it. He wasn't turning the ball over (especially in the red zone, where hed had trouble the last few years).
So what can Caleb Hanie do?
Most Bears fans remember Hanie coming in to relieve the horrific Todd Collins in last year's NFC Championship game against the Packers. And despite being the third string guy who'd had almost no reps with the first team, he actually made it a game. Well, until he tossed a pick-6 to the Packers B.J. Raji, a 300 pounder not knowing for having good hands.
But in fairness, while that's what most people will remember, Hanie actually kept the Bears in it by tossing a 35-yard touchdown to Earl Bennett. And a lot of people thought that if the Bears had put him in first and left Todd Collins on the bench, they would have possibly been able to pull it out.
Now that Hanie has a week with the first team, he should perform even better. Hanie and Cutler have a close relationship, which can also be a huge help.
To have a realistic shot at making the playoffs, the Bears are going to probably have to go 4-2 in their six remaining games.
Here's a breakdown of who they play and a prediction for each:
Nov. 27: at Oakland Raiders
This will be Hanie's first game as a starter this year. So we'll cut him some slack and assume this will be his worst game of the season. The Bears have to travel west and the Raiders have an explosive offense that's playing well right now.
Dec. 4: against Kansas City
The Bears need to win this game. It's at home against a team whose also lost their starting quarterback as this will be a Hanie vs Tyler Palko match-up. The Bears have better defense and special teams and should come out on top.
December 11: at Denver Broncos
This is another game the Bears should win. Where the Jets couldn't stop Tim Tebow's fourth quarter drive, the Bears defense wouldn't let him run down the field as Urlacher and Briggs should shut Tebow down. This will most likely be a low scoring game, with the Bears turning to Robbie Gould to outkick Matt Prater.
December 18: against Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks are the B-version of the Bears. Questionable quarterback, good running back mediocre wide receivers and a good running defense. The Bears have better corners and should shut down Tarvaris Jackson enough to pull out a home victory.
December 25: against Green Bay Packers
If the Packers are still undefeated in week 16, many pundits were pointing to this game as the one that they were most likely to lose. But that was when Cutler had two working thumbs. The way the Packers are playing right now, I don't give the Hanie-lead Bears a chance to pull this one out.
January 1: at Minnesota Vikings
If the Bears are still in the playoff hunt this will be one of those games where the Bears have everything to play for, while the Vikings will already have their tee times ready. The Bears could start no one at quarterback and win this game.
So there you have it. If Caleb Hanie can manage the Bears offense, and if Matt Forte can keep moving the chains, the Bears have a strong enough defense and Devin Hester's more-than-capable special teams play to play their way into the playoffs, where anything can happen. And if he leads them to a 6-0 run, would there be a quarterback controversy? Bears fans can only hope.
As a fantasy football side note: Go pick up Hanie right now. He won't be Tom Brady, but he's a guy who will be underappreciated. He knows the offense, and he should put up more than capable points if you're struggling to find someone to slot in at QB (or if you're in a two quarterback league.) We'll have more on Caleb's fantasy predictions in our weekly waiver wire.